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Rail district gets Colorado ready to build Front Range line

Amtrak engine.jpg
Posted at 5:50 PM, Jun 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-11 21:07:09-04

PUEBLO, Colorado — Commuters and travelers in Colorado could soon have the option of boarding a train, rather just than driving up and down I-25. The state legislature passed a bill this month that will create a new Front Range Passenger Rail District.

"If folks are driving on I-25 and a tractor-trailer wrecks, it doesn't matter how many lanes you have, it's going to come to a crawl," said Sal Pace, Vice-Chair of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission.

That commission was created by state lawmakers in 2017 to study options for creating passenger rail service. The new district will now have to power to build and operate that service.

"It's the closest to reality I think we've been in a long time when it comes to the conversation around front range rail," said House Majority Leader Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, one of the bill's sponsors.

Over the past five years, the commissioners have worked to put the state in an ideal position to benefit from federal infrastructure spending. President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan calls for $80 billion in rail expansion and improvements around the country.

When Amtrak's leaders announced a multi-billion dollar network expansion plan in April, they said the Front Range Rail project was at the top of their list because so much of the environmental impact studies and route alignment work was already complete.

"The Colorado Front Range corridor is the number one corridor on their priority list in the United States and it's because we've laid so much of the groundwork," Pace said.

The district will have the power to raise taxes and borrow money, with voter approval, in order to build and maintain the rail line. Rep. Esgar points out that simply having the governing structure in place gets the state ready to receive those federal funds when Congress approves them.

"So, if we can be on the forefront of this in Colorado, have our district set up, ready to go, when and if this money is available, we can act on it faster and finally make this a reality," she said.

The district will run by an eight-member, appointed board which should be in place by next April. Board members will be selected from various geographical areas served by the rail line.